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Re: Many Thanks and Some Questions ...
by Mike Alexander
27 July 2002 12:17 UTC
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[Luke:]  It's interesting that you answer this question in what seems to be moral philosophical terms (“should be done”).  But don’t such terms and, hence, moral philosophy as their source end up falling into the same quagmire as P. and U. do (namely that they spend so much time on modes of behavior {the ‘how’ and/or the ‘ought’ of social theory}and praxeological concerns that they forget the “is” of human affairs primarily and secondarily the “is” and “what” of the natural world as well)?
Yes, P. and U. [“can tell you how to do something”].  I concur.  What’s neat here is your “but not why you would want to” clause.  This ‘why’ of yours juxtaposed with your “should” in the last sentence suggests moral imperative and agency (at least in the case of human action).  It seems to equate higher causes and factors of determination of either human action or natural processes with extrinsic moral absolutes (not that this was necessarily your intention at all in writing this); it does bring up a question on my part – Why should the categorical question “WHY” imply a moralist’s “SHOULD?” 
[Mike:]  Why doesn't always imply should.  When why is used in terms of purposeful action, then should is implied.  I am not implying moral agency.  I simply wished to point out that there are important questions that science cannot answer.
[Luke:] Yet, even aside from such discussions of moral philosophy in history – variations on the theme of Catholic Universal History - and Natural Law in the ethical sense, this WHY/SHOULD juxtaposed relationship is problematic.  Clearly the WHY and “WHY YOU WOULD WANT TO implies the extrinsic determination of human action in history and the issue of motivation.  Neither of these notions necessarily implies a universal moral qualifier to human activity over time; instead, “determination” (via evolution and other macro-cosmic phenomena) and “motivation” (the driving micro-cosmic dynamics of deep-seated human emotions & psychohistory) shape human action in history and through that, by shaping the active mental process of reflective/comparative judgments people make as individuals and via communities as they encounter new experiences in life, new ways of interacting with their environment, and new connections they can draw between external phenomena A,B,C and internal mental phenomena within themselves X,Y,Z, moral universals are formed.
[Mike:] Some human actions involve motivation and intention. I am not trying to imply that there is a purpose to human action in history.
[Luke:]  By this (erroneous) I mean, the majority not only got their “real” facts and truth wrong; but they still have a whole host of “good” facts plus demonstration/persuasion at their disposal. 
Examples:  The Galileo versus Church officials incident; regarding the Ptolemaic model - G. had his evidence and demonstrations, but so did his opponents – they had their facts, truths, and ways of demonstrating ideas.  An observer of that generation may not have been able to tell that Galileo was “in the right” in spite of this – but he was and the history of knowledge has proven him right in spite of what the majority opinion was in those days.
Socrates versus the Politicians and the Sophists -- Socrates won the arguments; they – his opponents among the sophists and pol.’s were the majority; Socrates took the hyssop for it; they won the day as did their view; but I think it safe to say history proved Socrates – who went against the academic grain of his time – right, this is at least according to the Platonic version of the Socrates story                 
The whole ‘Columbus versus others who said the world was flat’ story (that’s sometimes told to children) Again history proves the individual right and the maj. academic viewpt. of his generation ;; I realize this story is largely myth, for many in Columbus’s day and before believed the earth was round; that was not was C. was after with his voyages, even this fantasy example proves the rule that the majority view of a generation can be dead wrong in the historical sense of the development of knowledge over the ages; The agreed-upon view of a majority of scholars in a given generation can be and sometimes most definitely “is” wrong.
In the matter of Galileo, it was the opinion of the Jesuit astronomers (whom the pope consulted) that Galileo was probably right.  The oppenents did not have evidence and reasoned arguments with which to oppose Galieo.  It was not a scientific matter.  The arguments against Galieo were theological in nature.  A modern analogy is the battle between creationism versus evolution.  Evolution is accepted as "true" by scientists today, just as heliocentrism was in Galileo's time.  The argument against evolution (and against Galileo) is (and was) theological in nature.  There is NO theological support for evolution.  It plainly says in the Bible that God creatred the heavens and the earth--end of argument.  Evolution is wrong because it is not biblical.  Similarly, it was generally known in a scientific sense that the earth was round in Columbus's time.  The arguments for a flat earth were theological in nature. Finally, Socrates was guilty of corrupting the morals of youth and he was a subversive.  His accusors were perfectly right about him.
[Luke:] I suppose I could have scratched the word “legitimate” from my point there in that passage.  The reason why I included it and also the word “good” was to make to make a crucial distinction between true scholars and pseudo intellectuals/ charlatans like Erik Van Daniken.  Because the problem is:  EVD had his “good” facts/”evidence” and he had his persuasion (that at least worked on the public who bought his books). 
[Mike:]  EVD did not any “good” facts/”evidence”.  His argument was similar to that of all pseudoscientists.  He raised a lot of questions and answered.  The whole approach was to cast doubt on accepted ideas.  It is simply assumed that if the accepted explanation is wrong that makes his view right or at least possible.  EVD made no convincing demonstration.  Nobody who knew anything about his subject matter went along with his ideas. 
[Luke:]  Taking your biblical literalist example, I’d bet a good lawyer might be able to rhetorically convince this person (in the Pragamist, Utilitarian sense), beyond a reasonable doubt, to change his mind on the issue. 
[Mike:]   No he could not.  To a true believer the Word of God as revealed in Holy Scripture always trumps mere human words.
[Luke:]  … which leads me to these questions, supposing that “persuasion is everything” in scholarship (or at least a good chunk of it) when we present our research findings, if your ideas and arguments about persuasion are correct, why wouldn’t it be just as good for us to have (say) lawyers give our the presentation of our research conclusions to the public? 
[Mike:]  In science, it is not rhetorical persuasion, but demonstration that is necessary.  And not only demonstration by the presenter of the ideas, but also by trusted others or ourselves.  It is the empirical demonstration that persuades the scientist.  It is the faithfulness to Scripture than persuades the religious.  It is the nature of the evidence as augmented by the rhetorical skill of the lawyer and well as his grasp of the law that persuades the jury or judge.
Just as theology is another way of knowing than is science, legal thinking is also a different way of knowing than sceince. A legal proof is not the same as a scientific proof.  In science a valid answer is "I don't know".  In the law a decision is obtained to every question posed, the court must make a ruling.  That is its purpose.  In many case legal decisions have nothing to do with what is true.  So no, a lawyer would a poor choice for making a scientific argument (much as a theologian would).
[Luke:] ...the fact that it’s not just knowing the techniques and methods to use that’s important in convincing others of one’s ideas; it’s equally important – or perhaps more important – to find common ground on an issue in terms of the basic facts that both the presenter and the audience can agree upon, plus common ideas, shared applied paradigms, and so forth) before & even while the presentation takes place) 
[Mike:]  Yes that's right. 
[Luke:]  I’d stand by my claim: persuasion isn’t everything.  Our job as scholars and academics is not about un-restrained PR like that which comes through on TV commercials; it’s about bringing people to an accurate understanding of the facts and a to a consensus in shared meaning about agreed upon real things that thinkers in the past have called “truth”
[Mike:]  I never said persuasion was everything.  I brought persuasion into the issue to show the importance of empirical demonstration in scientific persuasion.  If nobody ever believes your theories, they die with you and there is no advancement, thus others must learn of your work: Work! Finish! Publish! as Faraday put it.   
In science, persuasion requires empirical demonstration, either by experiment, through prediction, or through explanation of a large body of observations, including observations not yet made  (which is a form of prediction).   It is the empirical nature of scientific persuasions, with the emphasis on replication, that makes them much less dependent on rhetorical power or stylistic features than what lawyers or advertisers do.
As you wrote, one cannot bring people to an "accurate understanding of the facts" and a to a consensus in shared meaning about agreed upon real things (i.e. the “truth”) if they do not have common ground on the issue in terms of the basic facts that both the presenter and the audience can agree upon, plus common ideas, shared applied paradigms, and so forth. 
This is why scientific persuasion is conducted among other scentists who share certain paradigms about the utility and value of doing science.  It is a waste of time to try to persuade  a person operating out of a religious paradigm, for example, that his religiously-derived ideas are false.  How can they be?  Within his own paradigm they are, by definition, true.
Mike Alexander,  author of
Stock Cycles: Why stocks won't beat money markets over the next 20 years and
The Kondratiev Cycle: A generational interpretation
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